When You Think Someone Is Wrong

wrong way signI’ve been thinking about Ignatius’s Presupposition lately. This is a ground rule for the Spiritual Exercises that he puts right at the beginning of the book. It’s about the relationship between the spiritual director and the person making the retreat.

To assure better cooperation between the one who is giving the Exercises and the exercitant, and more beneficial results for both, it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false. If an orthodox construction cannot be put on a proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it. If he is in error, he should be corrected with all kindness. If this does not suffice, all appropriate means should be used to bring him to a correct interpretation, and so to defend the proposition from error.

Note that Ignatius isn’t saying that we should play Mister Nice Guy and ignore mistakes and false beliefs. Error should be corrected—but “with all kindness.” But before we start correcting other people, we need to do something else, and that is to do everything we can to understand how the other person understands the proposition that bothers us so much. This is the part that’s so often skipped. We think we already know why someone is spouting dangerous nonsense: they’re ignorant, or selfish, or afraid to admit the truth. They’re bad.

How good it would be if spouses, politicians, business associates, and fellow Christians did what Ignatius advised, and were more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false.


  1. I try to think that with most people their hearts are in the right place but because of personality treats, life experiences, intelligence, up-bringing etc., they are not always capable of deep thinking or good judgement. It is very difficult to change people’s deep seated beliefs. Example is probably the best way I think. Of course as has been pointed out in other comments we must always examine our own thinking, opinions and behavior as well.

  2. Am afraid I am on the wrong way. because I feel like the majority of the group in saying… ..I don’t care anymore. It is useless. Better to leave things in God’s hands.

  3. I think at times we have an inner compass and it tells us what is wrong. If we aren’t sure, we ask others. But what do you do when you know something is wrong and it is your parish and no one will listen?

  4. WOW! That is something to ponder for the day (Month, Year??)Especially when someone comes out with something that sounds particularly outrageous (to Me). Especially Politicians!
    I obviously have a lot of work to do. And there I was thinking I am a tolerant person!?! The Holy Spirit has a lot of work to do on me / or perhaps With me.

  5. To put a good interpretation…
    I have been struck recently by how programmed we each are when it comes to our opinions. So much of what we think is a product of our history (or herstory).
    Thus, it just becomes interesting to listen to someone with a different point of view and try to understand how that opinion came about.
    I want to live according to my truths, but can’t expect everyone else to hold the same. Hopefully, once in a while, I’ll meet someone who shares them.

    • When I was in high school, two very different men (on a priest, one a Catholic teacher) emphasized that we should pray for “Gods Will”.
      We have a good man at church, who prays specific prayers and says that is what we should do. He prays wonderful, beautiful prayers, but when I try praying for a specific outcome, often when God answer that prayer, it doesn’t always work out. (I prayed for a took a horrible job, that didn’t suit me at all).
      I admire my friend’s ability to pray, am in awe of his beautiful prayers, but continue to pray for God’s will in my prayers.

  6. How appropriate for me today. I am in such a mood! But on the light side I thought of the Odd Couple, Felix and Oscar, and what happens when you assume . . . I need the grace to address everyone with kindness today.

  7. How good it would be if…
    Yep, how good it would be. As I wondered what it would take to get this going nationwide, specifically with a huge election on the national horizon, perhaps it should start with me, easier said than done. But what if…


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here